More than 50 million people in the United States suffer from an autoimmune condition, while cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million.
78% of autoimmune sufferers are women.
Autoimmunity is in the top 10 leading causes of death for women under the age of 65.
There are several different types of autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, and more. Symptoms of autoimmune disease vary by individual, are diverse, can affect the entire body, and range in severity from mild to severe. What exactly is autoimmunity and how should it be treated?
What are Autoimmune Diseases?
The immune system is a complex and highly effective system for identifying and eliminating potential hazards including infections, toxins, and damaged tissue. When a foreign substance enters the body, your immune system references a catalog of all the invaders that you have come into contact with and what happened. In this way, it can tell if something is dangerous or harmless. For threatening substances, your body creates unique weapons for that particular invader—antibodies.
Autoimmunity is a miss-response of the body’s disease-fighting system against its own healthy cells rather than against an infection or unhealthy cells (tumor).
Autoimmunity develops when your immune system is fighting a potential threat—allergens, toxins, infections, or even foods—and fails to recognize the differences between the foreign substance and your own body. Mistaking itself for something harmful, your body begins attacking itself.
Different Organs Same Disease Process
Although there are many different types of autoimmune diseases affecting many different organs, all autoimmune disease is caused by systemic inflammation [link to inflammation tag] which triggers an immune reaction where body attacks itself.
How Does Autoimmunity Develop?
There are many different triggers and combinations of triggers that kick start the autoimmune process. While there are common patterns, each autoimmune disease—like each patient—is unique.
Autoimmunity is triggered in patients with one or more of the following:
- Genetic predisposition—someone in your immediate family or many people in your extended family also suffer from autoimmunity. Importantly, genes must be “turned on” by their environment. Common environmental factors are listed below.
- Chronic inflammation from unresolved food sensitivities—Certain food proteins cannot be digested by your gut and trigger an immune reaction. The gluten protein found in wheat is highly correlated with incidence of autoimmunity. Dairy and egg sensitivities are also common though slightly less.
- Severe or chronic infection—Foreign organisms invade your body and your immune system struggles to win the fight, weakening your immune system over time. Yeast overgrowth (Candida), Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis), and herpes simplex virus (cold sores or genital herpes) are common culprits.
- Toxic overload—Toxins from the environment or exposure to heavy metals like mercury overwhelm your body.
- Mycotoxin overload—Excessive exposure to mycotoxins found in molds can weaken your immune system.
Many doctors will tell you that autoimmunity is mostly (or entirely) genetic and that it’s a lifelong condition. This is not true. Autoimmunity can be stopped and contained with functional medicine.